Friday, February 01, 2013
bad enough to be good?
Title: A Brewing Storm/ A Raging Storm/ A Bloody Storm
Author: "Richard Castle"
Remember, the rule is: everything you read gets posted, no matter how embarrassing it is.
I was a fan of Castle when it first started. This season, they're losing my interest fast. It was a lot more fun when every single case didn't have some handy lesson for the two main characters about their newfound relationship. I don't care. Really, I don't. I want to see clever murders, and more clever detectives catching the SOBs what done the deeds. I do not want to see long, meaningful glances between Castle and Beckett whenever a suspect or witness says "you can't date someone you work with! That's a disaster waiting to happen! Who would be that STUPID??" Sad thing is, I even like the scenes related to Castle's writing. More than the relationship garbage. Maybe they could give Ryan and Esposito their own show. I'd probably watch that, until someone ruined it.
Anyway. Books. Yes.
These are three shorter "books" (about 85 pages each, available only as ebooks) which make up one longer story. I finished reading the third one today, and I still can't decide whether the series is brilliant or terrible.
I'll argue both cases.
They read like a hilarious spoof parody (I know it's redundant, but it's piled on thick, and I want to make that clear) of James Bond movies and Robert Ludlum books. I laughed at ridiculous scenes, lines, images, and the general idea of every section. By the third book, they've spun a senator's stepson's kidnapping up to a mystery about $60 billion (with a B) in Russian gold bullion (they also say "60 billion in bullion" a lot, and I just think that's funny) buried somewhere in Uzbekistan. I think. The characters are laughable caricatures of Ludlum's tough guys who are always total experts at guns and surveillance and crap, and the quippy lothario wanna-bes we can safely blame the James Bond franchise for infesting all action movies. It's hilarious. I can't possibly take any of it seriously.
Holy shit, people. Spell check is already in your word processing software. It's usually automatic. Red means the word is spelled wrong; green is questionable grammar. And maybe, if you're going to try ham-fisted marketing like publishing real books from your TV show's fake writer, you should maybe have just one person proofread it before you release anything. That's all I ask. I'll do it, no problem. I could use a job, and a good laugh. While reading these, I took a break one morning to do a crossword puzzle that poked fun at how people say things like "ex cetera" and "supposably," but that sort of thing ACTUALLY WAS IN THIS BOOK. Incorrect words happen all the time, stuff is spelled wrong, and at one point, the wrong character was cited in dialog (it was "Showers said," when Storm had been the one talking). Worse yet, the character named I-shit-you-not April Showers was once referred to as Flowers. It wasn't someone making fun of her--it wasn't even in dialog.
"It's not the size of the gun that matters," Flowers said flatly, "but the man using it." She smiled appreciatively at Storm.
They hadn't even had sex yet, and they've got her saying crap like that. I think she was so embarrassed for herself that she used a pseudonym for that line of dialog and hoped nobody would notice.
I checked these out from the library because I was waiting for the first book in the main Real Books by the Fake Author Richard Castle Series to be returned, but now I'm afraid to bother. What if they're all this bad?
Labels: over inflated ego, satire, shit, terrible idea, Washington DC
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to live and investigate in LA
Title: The Harry Bosch Novels
Author: Michael Connelly
I got an ebook from the library that had the first three Harry Bosch novels in one package. I had already read the last one, but that was years ago, so I read Black Echo, Black Ice, and The Concrete Blonde (again) in about a week, maybe more.
I'm only writing one post, because I am lazy, and I'm the only one who even looks at this anymore.
Harry was a tunnel rat in Vietnam; this plays heavily in the first book, when a fellow tunnel rat's body is found (in a tunnel, no less) near the Mulholland Dam. In finding out whodunit and why, Harry also cracks open a year-old bank robbery case, draws the attention of IAD (who have been on his case since the Dollmaker shooting a couple years before the series starts), and gets freaky with a hottie FBI agent with her own skeletonized closet.
In Black Ice, Harry's service in Nam is mentioned, but it's not as big a deal--though he does still end up in a tunnel. His boss, Harvey "Ninety-Eight" Pounds, wants a case closed before the end of the year so the books balance better, so when a flaky detective takes a leave of absence because the stress is breaking him down, his caseload ends up on Bosch's desk with an order to find an easy case, and close it. Now. By the end of the book, Bosch has solved four or five murders and destroyed a drug-smuggling operation, but most of those murders happen during the course of his first investigation, so it's not clear whether they count for the Lieutenant's quota. Oh, and he ends a relationship with the ME and starts one with a freshly-widowed cop's wife. Because that scene was TOTALLY plausible.
All I remembered about The Concrete Blonde (before re-reading it) was something about ankles, and a porn cop. That's a cop who investigates and helps regulate porn, not the one who shows up in short-shorts at your bachelorette party and says "there's been a noise complaint ladies, and I'm gonna need you to stuff money in my pants." Anyway, there's a civil suit related to the Dollmaker shooting that Bosch keeps mentioning in his internal monologue, and he has to deal with that while there's a new investigation because a body has turned up that matches the Dollmaker's MO, and a note which also matches, but at least he's still with Dead Cop's Wife (she may not know the SPOILER ALERT that her dead husband was a dirty cop who tried to take over the drug-smuggling operation in Black Ice by faking his death, killing the real kingpin, and taking over his life, which was spoiled when Bosch figured it out and killed him in a kill-or-be-killed confrontation, but SPOILER ALERT OVER at least she and Bosch have settled into a comfortable domestic situation, and Bosch tells her he loves her awwwwww).
Again, I don't know if it's an error in the originals, or something that happens when they're sloppy about making ebooks, but I saw a lot of errors. The one that bothered me most was when Sylvia handed Bosch the same cup of coffee twice in one scene during Black Ice. And I don't know if there are really as many corrupt cops in LA as these books imply, but if I were in Public Relations for the LAPD, I might write Connelly a nice letter asking him to maybe cut the force a little slack and let a bad guy the bad guy every once in a while.
Labels: drugs, mystery/detective, series
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
no man is an island, except Jesse Stone
Title: Trouble in Paradise
Author: Robert B. Parker
I celebrated figuring out how to check out library books on my nook by continuing the Jesse Stone series, though I sometimes wonder why. I guess I hope he'll mature as it progresses.
Plot first, then gripes.
Bad guys plan an epic heist: isolate the Rich People Island off the coast of, but under the jurisdiction of, Paradise, Massachusetts, where Jesse Stone happens to be Chief of Police. Later, said bad guys execute planned heist (and a few locals who get in the way). Jesse handles the situation as he always does: saying as little as possible, and generally being more clever than people give him credit for being. Oh--and having sex with far more women than might seem reasonable for a guy who should be more busy with his job. One of his officers notes this, and buys him an extra-large bottle of multi-vitamins to show his concern.
Now the gripes.
Jesse's kind of an alcoholic. Fine, I get that, whatever. He's divorced, and carries a lot of related baggage. Sure, ok. He also carries an inextinguishable torch for his ex, who moves to Boston and becomes a weather girl to (in my opinion) continue to cruelly string him along. She makes me a little crazy. Jesse's mooning over her makes me a little crazy. Seriously, dude--get with Abby. She's better for you. Move the frick on.
Labels: mystery/detective, series
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Title: Black Jack Justice
Author: Gregg Taylor
Bookmark: unrelated receipt
Several years ago, a friend gave me a CD loaded with some podcasts. Most didn't do much for me, but there was an entire folder of fun from Decoder Ring Theatre. My favorites by far were the brilliant adventures of Black Jack Justice, who was always ably assisted by his partner: Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (she had cards printed!). You should go listen to them. Now. And make a generous donation; they're Canadians, so they could probably use the money, and they've certainly earned it.
Taylor's novel gives us a brand-new adventure set in Jack and Trixie's past. It is, in fact, their very first meeting, and the story of the first case they ever cracked together. It crackles with the same wit, energy, and trademark banter of the podcast episodes, and delves a little deeper into the darkness of classic pulp fiction (and I should know). I loved it. Front to back, it was solid, non-stop, fun. Jack and Trixie even take turns narrating, just as in the episodes. If there was another book, I'd buy it, too.
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caterpillar hookah, indeed
Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll
I found it free on Project Gutenberg. I was curious. I read it.
I am no longer curious, either about the story or about what it might be like to take drugs, because I surmise that reading this purported children's book and trying to make any sense of it creates an effect very similar to that brought on by ingestion of mild psychoactive substances.
But I did enjoy the pun-riddled scene with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, especially the following exchange:
"Why did you call him Tortoise if he wasn't one?" Alice asked.
"We called him Tortoise because he taught us," said the Mock Turtle angrily: "really you are very dull!"
Labels: children's literature, crazy fiction, eating disorders, talking animals, young protagonists
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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Title: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Author: Siddartha Mukherjee
I got a nook for Christmas, and while I thought the most appropriate choice for the first thing to read on it would either be The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy or anything by William Gibson, this is the first thing I bought, and the first thing I read. I regret nothing.
Cancer is kind of a big deal for me. Twelve years and eight days ago, it killed my mom. She had been diagnosed a little over two years earlier with inoperable, incurable, stage IV lung cancer. She still fought it all the way down. We all did. That's how we react to cancer. With everything we have, every moment, every day, until it's over. One way or another.
And that's how it's always been. Mukherjee's book is brilliant. He takes us through history's understanding of cancer, starting with the ancient Egyptian physician Imhotep who, in what may be the earliest identification of cancer, listed as its therapy "There is none." We march relentlessly through the ages, meeting some of Mukherjee's own patients (he is also a practicing oncologist), and the celebrities of cancer research and treatment.
The book is a tome, even in digital form, but it's well worth the time. It has been meticulously researched and written specifically for the layperson, reading like a novel, but with an all-too-real impact on our world.
Honestly, as I read it, I wondered how I could write a review that would do it justice, and I'm not sure I can. Perhaps it's too fresh in my mind. I just finished this afternoon, and when I reached the final pages, and a heartfelt understanding of the battle fought by cancer patients, I remembered Mom. I remembered other family members who have survived cancer, and I remembered the role reversal that took place when I nursed Mom through her final months. I can never forgive cancer for the suffering it caused my family, but I understand it better now. That's something.
Labels: biography, history, leukemia, medical, monster
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the end is the beginning is the end
Title: Childhood's End
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Bookmark: some random receipt.
The morning after Christmas, I drove through a blizzard and developed a scratchy throat and runny nose. By that night, I was thoroughly miserable. I started reading the first thing on my hosts' shelf that looked serviceable, and picked it up again the next morning at 4 when I couldn't sleep and had already shoveled the drive.
Being sick gives you plenty of time to read.
I finished reading this book almost two weeks ago. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It covers a couple generations of time on Earth. The aliens arrive the first night. Despite their instant influence on our global economy, politics, and propensity for bullfights, nobody actually sees one of the Overlords until almost one hundred years later.
I don't know whether the foreword (which I read from the same volume several months before I started reading the rest of the book) or a Wikipedia article (I tend to read those for books and TV shows I don't actually get to experience first-hand) spoiled it for me, but I'm going to spoil it for you: the aliens look like demons. Twelve feet tall, dark exoskeletal bodies, horns, wings, tail, the whole nine yards. Well. Four yards, I guess. They're not that tall. Here's the kicker: that's not even the weirdest part of the book. Not even remotely close.
To summarize without spoiling anything, the Overlords have been dispatched to our scrappy little corner of the universe as administrators of our evolution. No shit! They've hit their own evolutionary dead-end (they don't sleep, are essentially immortal, read at incredible rates, can process information from several channels simultaneously, and are ridiculously intelligent), so now their entire race serves this function all over the damned galaxy, making sure that other races are ready to take The Next Step when the time comes.
Then, naturally, Our Time Comes.
It's all very strange, and as intriguing as some aspects of those next steps sound, I'd just as soon it happens after I'm out of the equation.
Labels: demonic possession, evolutionary biology, sci-fi, space
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Sunday, December 16, 2012
Title: Kindness Goes Unpunished
Author: Craig Johnson
Bookmark: same lizard, same stick
I may have mentioned that one of the reasons I love the Longmire series is that it makes me homesick for the West. Despite taking place in Philly, Kindness Goes Unpunished still managed. Weird, huh?
Walt thinks he's going on vacation. He expects to be gone from his post two weeks, maybe three. Henry Standing Bear is driving Lola (the powder-blue T-bird) across the country to exhibit the Mennonite photographs of life on the Reservation (discovered in the previous book) at an art museum in the City of Brotherly Love, and Walt is riding shotgun, with Dog, who will apparently never get a real name, in the back seat. Walt hopes to spend some time with his daughter Cady, who works in Philly as The Finest Legal Mind of Our Time. On their first night in town, Bear lands a date (no surprise there), and Walt is left to his own devices. He meets Lena Moretti, mother to his trusty deputy Vic, and she is with him when he learns that his daughter will not be returning home that night.
Cady has been hospitalized, in a coma after a head injury, and may not wake up. As one might expect, Walt immediately begins investigating, arousing the interest of the local detectives, getting himself in trouble, and quickly gaining able assistance from several Morettis. They discover a much deeper plot of drugs and corruption whose surface Cady had barely scratched when she met with ill will, and although Walt learns early who hurt his little girl, he stays in it until the finish to find out who has been secretly sending him help along the way.
Johnson always does an incredible job of putting very real, believable characters in very real, dangerous situations, and reminding you of how real it is by not flinching from hurting them, sometimes badly. Throughout the story, Walt remembers how he, Bear, and Dog have been injured in the earlier books, and worrying how much of his daughter will survive her injury in this book. Whenever he is not actively pursuing a lead or grabbing a quick bite outside, he sits at his daughter's bedside, tears in his eyes, remembering her childhood and hoping for her future.
By putting Walt in a big East Coast city and putting his daughter in a coma, Johnson lands our hero firmly in territories both alien and terrifying, but Walt proves that determination, love, and a little help from his friends can get him through anything, anywhere.
I love these books.
Labels: murder, mystery/detective, Native American
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Merry Christmas, Flavia
Title: I Am Half Sick of Shadows
Author: Alan Bradley
Bookmark: lizard in a stick
Christmas comes to Buckshaw, riding on the coat-tails of a film crew. The Colonel, increasingly desperate in his efforts to pay the bills, has allowed a production crew to set up shop in the family manor, with clear rules as to which areas are available to them and which are entirely off-limits (namely, the boudoir of his late wife and life's great love, Harriet). Hoping to leverage the star power of Phyllis Wyvern, the movie's headliner, the vicar of Bishop's Lacey arranges a showing of Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene in Buckshaw's expansive foyer, selling tickets to the townspeople. Then a blizzard blocks the roads and seals off the estate during the show. Naturally, someone goes and gets themselves murdered.
Flavia is in the middle of dual festive chemical schemes: a fireworks show from Buckshaw's roof, and heavy smears of birdlime at the chimney entrances to capture Saint Nick and prove his existence once and for all to her noxious sisters. Luckily, she still has time to investigate the crime.
I love the series. I'm a big fan of Flavia, and Bradley. They are both very clever. This book is not the best showcase of their talents. Yes, it's still a lot of fun, and it's festively festivish, for what that's worth, but I felt like not as much effort had gone into the mystery of this outing. (is it still an outing if the entire novel takes place in Flavia's house?) I wouldn't go so far as to say that I was disappointed, but I wasn't as overwhelmed with this one as I had been earlier in the series. Maybe that's ok. You can't get better with every single effort, or you'll burn yourself out, and I look forward to seeing more of Flavia in the future.
Labels: girl power, murder, mystery/detective, secrets
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012
3.14 and so on
Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Bookmark: the official recycled bookmark of the Union Pacific Railroad
When I started reading this (yes, because of the movie), I remembered that it had been reviewed here previously, but I had forgotten every word of the review. I just re-read it, and completely agree. The novel starts by tooting its own horn, with the purported author's tale of how he discovered the story (it's told as though he found Pi as an adult living in Canada and got the story from him) upon meeting a man in a tea shop in India who told him he had a story that would "make you believe in God." Old man tells writer to go find Pi in Canada, author begins friendship with adult Pi, Pi begins telling his story. So begins Part Two of the three-part book.
I love a good survival story, and if it's true, even better. This book has neither quality. You'd think that putting a boy in a small boat with a large tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would lead to a great survival story, but it doesn't. I was actually disappointed when he discovered the overwhelming wealth of survival equipment in the lifeboat's storage locker. Like Kate, I was frustrated that after going to such lengths to make everything about the journey totally believable, there's a sudden sci-fi/fantasy twist in the eleventh hour which hangs around just long enough to make you think, "ok, so maybe the first 321 pages were just a set-up, and this is the real story that gets everybody so worked up," and is then passed over and forgotten. I was already annoyed that he had bumped into another lonely shipwreck survivor in the middle of the Pacific--that was too much stretch for me--and suddenly he finds a mysterious floating island? It felt like Martel's publisher told him "we're about thirty-six pages shy. Can you pad this with something?" "Well, I have this really fun idea for a sci-fi short story; it's a little like Perelandra, but the island is carnivorous, and chock-full of fish-chomping meerkats." "Whatever. Stick it in there."
Yeah, sure, it's a nice, diverting read. It is not as life-changing as everyone seems to think. Honestly, it's a little annoying. There's a couple scenes at the end when two Japanese guys are interviewing Pi in a Mexican hospital, and occasionally have side conversations between themselves in Japanese (translated in the book) so he can't understand. It's the best part of the whole book. It shows great humor, and the dialog is entertaining, with funny bits both in the words shared and in the actions described (Pi, after being stuck on a boat with a tiger for almost a year, composing soliloquies about food and hunger, keeps asking them for cookies. They comply, knowing that he has piles of cookies hidden under his bedsheet. When they get tired and frustrated about his story, he offers them cookies which they graciously accept. There's also a funny exchange about how arduous their drive from California was, and he consoles them about their difficult journey.). But it feels a little like a shaggy dog joke, since it comes after 365 pages of set-up.
I've lost interest in the movie.
Labels: adventure, Canada, cannibalism, finding oneself, fish, monster, talking animals, undeserving classics, young protagonists
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Monday, October 08, 2012
much more than murder
Title: Bad Business
Author: Robert B. Parker
Bookmark: leather bookmark from University Hospital's Ireland Cancer Center (I got it with purchase of Lisa's Story)
Spenser is one of Parker's longest-running heroes. I don't think his first name is ever mentioned, he doesn't seem to age, and apparently the characters that surround and support him are equally immortal. I surmise a little here, because I think this is the only Spenser book I've read, but I have it on good authority.
In this case, Spenser is hired to discover who killed Trent Rowley, CFO of a major energy borker called Kinergy, in the halls of the business. His wife wants to know who did it, but she mostly wants Spenser to prove she had nothing to do with it. This gives you a good sense for the wife's (Marlene) character. Trust me, she never gets more likable, and isn't meant to.
It doesn't take Spenser (and his buddy Hawk, and World's Greatest CPA Marty, and Spenser's longtime girlfriend Susan, who turns out to be the shrink from another Parker series) long to figure out that there's shady things happening at Kinergy, and far more than you might think, even knowing there'd just been a murder there.
Ably assisted by his merry band, Spenser uncovers extremely iffy bookkeeping, a large and prospering sex ring, and what may be the mother of all long cons.
I wasn't really interested in Spare Change. I enjoyed reading it, but when I finished it, I didn't feel an urgent need to go hunt down another Sunny Randall mystery. Spenser is a different matter. I like the character, his style, and his voice. He reacts to jokes that other people don't realize they make, and plays word games with as much self-serving vigor as me, plus he's a total badass, with friends who are also total badasses, even if I didn't learn much about them in this episode.
Labels: cooking, corporations, dog, hunky armed forces or government operatives, murder, mystery/detective
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Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Title: Spare Change
Author: Robert B. Parker
Bookmark: Lizard in a stick
Sunny Randall used to be a cop. Her Dad Phil used to be a cop. Now she's a PI, and he has been brought in as a consultant when a cold case reopens itself. When the Spare Change Killer first prowled 25 years ago, he led the task force, but they never got the guy. They did receive a few notes, addressed to Phil, commenting on his progress or lack thereof. When Spare Change seems to have gotten back in the game, the police ask Phil to lend his expertise. Phil asks his daughter the same. We never really find out why, except that he apparently values her input.
I recently had a discussion in which I outlined the difference between a "crime novel" and a "mystery novel." In a crime novel, you're just along for the ride. You watch the players, you may even witness the crime and know the identity of the culprit, but you are not a participant. You are just there to enjoy the story. A mystery novel, however, is a puzzle to solve. The clues are laid out for you the same as they are for the investigators, and it is only a matter of whether your knowledge and skill are a match to theirs; you can determine this by correctly deducing whodunnit on your own, and check your answers by reading the story and finding who actually did the deed(s).
This is a crime novel. In an early chapter, our girl Sunny interviews the culprit, then only a suspect, and immediately declares to the team, "he did it." From then on, it is only a matter of proving he did it. Because crime novels require less engagement than mystery novels, I have to be really interested in the story to get excited about them. If I'm not excited, that doesn't mean the book isn't good. It only means I wasn't excited. Generally speaking, I like Parker's stuff, though I have limited experience with it. This book felt more like a diversion than an adventure. Maybe he's just not good with female leads. Maybe I'm not good at reading female leads, though I personally doubt that.
Here's my problem: the chapters dealing with the investigation were good. Scenes between Sunny and her dad were also good, and even touching. You really like her dad, and suspect that he is by far the wisest and most likable character in the Parker Pantheon, despite his choice of wife. I also liked scenes between Sunny and her friend Spike, the self-described "toughest queer in the world." You can't help but want to be friends with the guy, and not just because you know nobody would ever bother you in his company, ever [sic]. But scenes between Sunny and her ex-husband/ possible new lover (so boring I've already forgotten his name) fell flat and made me feel uncomfortable. Whatever her reasons, I couldn't root for her love life. Scenes with her unaccredited and highly unethical counselor friend Julie were worse. I actively disliked her, and could never figure out why they were friends at all. She seemed to exist to make Sunny's choices look good by comparison. Sunny regularly discusses everygoddamnedthing with her therapist, Dr. Silverman, who in Sunny's mind is perfection with excellent hair. Maybe I hated those scenes because I consider psychotherapy to be the least expeditious way possible to waste a whole lot of money, or maybe it's because as a foil, shrinks are the laziest possible solution for a writer. Even having your protagonist talk to a fractured segment of his own mind is better.
Finally, there are the scenes with her family. Her mother and sister are, to be blunt, idiots. I think they're supposed to be. Parker knows they are, and has fun with that. He writes idiots really well. I'm torn on these scenes. On the one hand, they make me hate those two characters, but on the other, they're probably the most realistic, true-to-life scenes in the entire book. In one chapter, four characters are talking simultaneously, having two or three separate conversations, blithely ignoring questions by people outside those little chats. It was great, and reminded me of how big groups of family actually talk, but the constant preening and attention-seeking by people (the mother and sister) who have no grasp of the scope of the world made me want to tell them to shut up and leave so the grown-ups could talk. But I think that was Parker's goal.
Labels: Daddy issues, family, mid-life crisis, murder
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Title: The Haj
Author: Leon Uris
Bookmark: Panera receipt
I picked this up for free at a bookstore only because I recognized the author's name and figured it was high time I introduce myself. (and yes, because it was free) I didn't even get to it for a couple months--but I'm glad I did.
Our narrator, Ishmael, is the youngest son of Haj Ibrahim al-Soukori al-Wahabbi (an early chapter includes some interesting information on Arab naming conventions). His voice gives us the story of his family's life following the end of World War Two and the creation of Israel from formerly Arab lands. This is a little like saying the Star Wars trilogy is "about a farmboy."
Uris's work is obviously highly researched and thickly detailed. Reading it felt immersive and educational, but I was always a little curious how accurate the depictions of life and culture described in the book really were. Although the bulk of the 566 pages covers the span of Ishmael's life, the book opens with his father becoming muktar (mayor/tribal leader, essentially) of their village after the death of his father, and continues to give a thorough recounting of the years leading up to Ishmael's birth, including WWII from the Arab perspective (white folks fighting in Europe, with a brief incursion into the desert). We get Ibrahim's entire back story, and later, that of his friend Gideon Asch, a Jewish "desert rat" and later British officer and leader of Shemesh Kibbutz (a Jewish village, or kibbutz, established near Ibrahim's village of Tabah). Ibrahim and Asch share a complicated friendship, often confiding in each other things they could never tell someone else--especially someone else of their own faith--despite maintaining a charade of constant animosity between their villages.
Ishmael, as the youngest son, is destined to be the family goatherd, but his mother has other plans for him. Manipulating both him and his father, she manages to move him to a favored spot among the Haj's four sons, and he goes on to finagle himself an education. His new place at his father's side gives us a detailed view of the manipulations forcing Ibrahim's path. Ishmael tells us that his world is often Arab against Arab, and that nobody can be trusted. His father likes to say that if you have one hundred friends, you should get rid of 99--and be wary of the last. Leaders in the Arab world, realizing the strategic importance of Tabah's location, begin to make deals with Ibrahim to restore Arab power and drive out the Jews, but Ibrahim realizes that for all their talk of brotherhood, he is himself being forced out.
The village is abandoned, and the family separated from the people the Haj has led his entire adult life. Without a home, without power, they become refugees, spending years in camps near Jerusalem, and finding their own ways to survive in a world that has become constant turmoil and infighting. I was almost halfway through the book before I realized that the title didn't refer to the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca, but to Ibrahim, who was able to add Haj to his name after he made the pilgrimage himself. He then spent the rest of his life leading his family through the Arab world, trying desperately to save both, and bring Arabs into a modern age of accord and peace while maintaining his traditional values.
The story is deeply involving, though it was written in 1984, before political correctness, and certain aspects may be offensive to Jews, Moslems, Arabs, and/or women. I'm not a member of any of those groups, so I found some of the more objectionable passages a point of curiosity. I was curious about the accuracy of depictions of life in Tabah, Arab and Moslem culture, and the history of Israel. I wondered a lot about what modern Jews and Moslems would think about the book, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the current situation in the Middle East, the animosity towards Westerners, and how, despite what many news networks will tell you, nothing has really changed in the past 50 years. The weapons and faces are different, but they're still fueled by old hatreds. The book was both illuminating and ... pretty scary. But very good.
Labels: historical fiction, terrorism, war
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